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By Darren Garnick - The Boston HeraldJanuary 13th 2010
For most of my professional career, I have been the proud poster boy for A Perfect Mess, the contrarian book that preaches the virtues of a cluttered work space. The disorganization bible, written by Needham author David H. Freedman and Columbia University management professor Eric Abrahamson, argues that office chaos actually enhances creativity and productivity.
“A messy desk can represent a surprisingly sophisticated informal filing system that offers far more efficiency and flexibility than a filing cabinet could possibly provide,” they assert. “Messy desk owners typically have separate piles for urgent, less urgent and nonurgent documents.”
Three years ago in this space, I passionately endorsed A Perfect Mess and ruthlessly mocked Barry Izsak, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. NAPO had branded January as “Get Organized Month” and Izsak, who is a professional organizer in Austin, Texas, ominously told me that his archenemy, clutter, plagued “the bulk of humanity.”
It turns out that his superhero rhetoric was right. My employer’s decision to relocate to larger offices this month has forced me to confront the mounds of documents, newspapers, trade journals and notebooks blanketing every square inch of horizontal space. Despite thriving in this environment for years, I am now strangely experiencing Barry’s prophecy of a “sinking, drowning feeling.”
I can’t take it any more. Why would I save a Wal-Mart sales flier from 2004? Looking at it, I had no idea which product originally enticed me. Why would I save DVDs for Microsoft Front Page 2000 or Microsoft Explorer 5 - for the dream software museum I hope to launch one day?
There is no way I am ever hiring a professional organizer, though I now reluctantly respect what they do. The problem lies in my refusal to let anyone touch my stuff and decide what is truly valuable. Like the bottles of Benadryl (expired 8/2004) and Tylenol (expired 1/2006) anchoring my desk drawer. Those could be vital artifacts for the dream medication museum I hope to launch one day.
With the help of some consulting co-workers, I begrudgingly threw away a banged-up VHS tape of World War II newsreels. They convinced me I was not the only one with footage of the Nazi invasion of Poland.
Ironically, deep inside one of my mounds of newspapers was an Associated Press story declaring newspaper hoarding to be a mental disorder. But the greatest contributor to my “disorder” are hundreds of scraps of paper with “important” information scrawled on them. Phone numbers. “To do” lists. Article ideas. Calendar listings. Gas receipts never claimed on expense reports - is there a statute of limitations?
My advice to anyone facing a similar avalanche is to immediately gather up every trade show tote bag you own and throw them away - without even looking at the contents. Empty vessels automatically get filled - usually with useless promotional freebies that seemed so appealing at the time. How many “stress relieving” squeezie toys or soda can koozies do you really need?
After more than a week of intense clutter therapy, I profusely apologize for my past insensitivity to the National Association of Professional Organizers. There is no such thing as a “Perfect Mess.” With that psychological hurdle out of the way, it’s now time to tackle my home office.
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